Once you come to Berlin you will be tempted by a number of historical and cultural sites for a visit and most of you most likely will be seduced by East Side gallery or Check Point Charlie. Berlin wall, that was perturbing the life of inhabitants, lasted for nearly 30 years and its caused division is still felt in nowadays city. It became not only the symbol of the region, but also the massive tourist attraction. But is one truly seeing and understanding the history of the wall by visiting only the famous touristic sites?
To approach the history of the wall in a different manner, the idea to bike its perimeter came. The total distance around the West sector would be 155km, which is way to ambitious for one day, therefore we decided to achieve only the city dividing part from north to south, which is about 60km long.
By quick internet search we have acquired the map of the route and also found the information, that the full length of the wall is transformed into marked bicycle route. The distance seemingly doable still required some planning and preparation – it goes through the most crowded neighborhoods in Berlin and therefore we expected to be delayed, yet still manage under 7 hours.
The start was planned at the northern boundaries of the city early in the morning. The wall tour starts close to Hohen Neuendorf, which is technically Berlin but still has a provincial feeling with cute old town and cobbled streets. The planned start was not so easy to find in the local forest park. Luckily there are signs guiding to the old watchtower that is left after the wall was destroyed. From the watchtower the brand new bicycle route Mauerweg follows the former wall throughout the city. At the North it is going through a wonderful forest, that I never thought to be located in Berlin. It was really surprising to see so much nature surrounding sleepy and cute neighborhoods. Even some farms and horse ranches were on the way, which made Berlin feel rather rural.
This kind of calm lifestyle was felt until Prenzlauer Berg. Here the Berlin wall tour turned into the famous and hip Mauerpark, surrounded by hipster cafes and groups of tourists. The bike road became noticeably more crowded but the tour offered many information stations for those curious about history. Our highlight was the observation of the remaining wall fragment. And I mean not only the one row of painted concrete blocks, but a real wall, in its all thickness, how it used to be back in days.
There is an observation tower (free of charge), where you could go quite comfortably to look at the wall structure from above. One could see how wide the wall actually was, that it had several ‘layers’ and well lit brushed sand, to see the footsteps of illegal crossing. The small museum is sharing the stories and history of the wall, illegal crossing from East to West. The wall now is turned into memorial park. It is not only a lovely place for a walk, but also is informative, as there are many of memorial boards, telling curious stories about the wall.
It is interesting to see, that along the former wall, a lot of new building have been built. After the unification of East and West Berlin, the territory of the wall (which actually is not too little) offered new territory for building, which is being happily used until today. The area close to Hauptbahnhof is being built completely new, which allows more living spaces in a cramped city that receives many newcomers every year.
Along the route one could find some wall leftovers and other relics. A surprise watch tower was spotted next to Spree, just before reaching the central station. Awkwardly sitting in the middle of the residential buildings it is easy to miss, unless you come from the right angle. There were no one to visit this curious kinda-like-a-monument of the wall and from this point, the closer one gets to the touristic hot-spot (Brandenburg gate), the more popular and crowded other wall leftovers are.
The deeper in the city we biked, the less tour signs there were. Sometimes arrows on the poles would disappear for several streets, sometimes it would become a darker stone line on the middle of the road. It became notably harder to find the exact position of the wall, which might be not a big problem for those, who just want casually drive through the divided territory (to be honest, does it really matter if we skip a street or two and then come back to track?). But we were determined to follow the exact division pattern, so several hours were lost due to double checking the wall location on internet and then trying to follow it though the crowded city.
The most crowded place on the trip was Check point Charlie, where tourists get scammed and most likely pick-pocketed. It used to be the border crossing point, controlled by Americans. There were 3 of them in total and this one was the only one at the center of the city. Now it is a place for tourists to take an overpriced picture with ‘American soldiers’ or go to an extremely crowded Mauermuseum.
Avoiding crowded central areas in Friedrichshein we crossed Spree and headed towards Kreuzberg, which is an excellent stop for lunch, by the way. Once out of the main streets there, we could once again enjoy empty streets. City started to become green and rural again following the Mauerweg South. It is in some way surprising, how much space Berlin actually has outside the hip central neighborhoods and how much more calm and green it is there. It sometimes does not look or feel like Berlin at all.
The Southern part of the route was extremely quick and easy, as the way is almost straight and well marked. At some point it becomes not so nice to follow, as there was a highway built ower the former wall. For some good 6 to 8 km I was following this highway on bike speed way. It was quick and not so bad, but definitely not very interesting. On the far horizon one could see grey Soviet blocks, that reminded me of home a little bit.
It was still Berlin and I could not believe my eyes – wast meadows, so much beautiful nature and space. Towards the Southern most point of the wall, which was also the finishing point of the day, bike way became less and less taken care of. At some point I was driving a narrow garden colony road, that was marked as a Berlin Wall tour. Unfortunately it finished with a dead end. I tried to go around but with no luck, the trip had to be finished there.
Two years later after this tour I still think, how impressive it is, that Berlin is stretching 60km from North to South. I would like to recommend this tour not only for history enthusiasts but also for anyone who has the time to see not only touristic, artistic and fun Berlin, but how it actually is in real life of real people. From fancy and spacious villas in the North to dodgy and low-income southern outskirts, from glamorous and freshly built Mitte to grey sadness of Soviet blocks. It is unforgettable and contrast rich one-day bike trip, that is worth making for those living in Berlin as well as you might find some spots you would have never found otherwise. And for the end my advice is: get lost, at least several times on the road. It gives extra adventurous flavor :).
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